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As school districts nationwide continue instruction in a remote learning environment, many educators are using videoconferencing technology to stay connected with students and collaborate with colleagues from a distance.
But videoconferencing platforms don’t come without risks. When a high school teacher in San Diego Unified School District held a video meeting with students on their first day of distance learning, three anonymous individuals took over the call and shared inappropriate messages, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, reported incidents of bad actors interrupting video calls between teachers and students prompted the FBI Boston Division to release a warning on teleconferencing and online hijacking, according to the The Boston Globe.
Although these events occurred in the context of the novel coronavirus, it’s imperative for school districts to be prepared to address security and privacy risks when adopting videoconferencing tools, no matter when and where they’ll be using them.
The Security and Privacy Risks Associated with Videoconferencing
With school buildings closed, students, faculty and staff have to rely on other ways to communicate and work together remotely. Videoconferencing is an important piece of that, says Curtis Peterson, senior vice president of operations at RingCentral.
Videoconferencing platforms — which combine messaging, video and phone capabilities all in one place — allow teachers to have real-time interactions with students, as well as foster active participation and engagement among them during remote learning. But working outside of school networks places users in a vulnerable position.
“With organizations being mandated to work from home, hackers are increasing efforts to exploit the vulnerabilities,” shares Scott Gordon, chief marketing officer at Pulse Secure, in an interview with Digital Journal. “Schools and universities that are navigating remote teaching and administration can be particularly vulnerable to malware, identity theft and other security exposures, and cyberthreats have increased the risk of students’ medical and academic records.”
To better protect users and sensitive data when using remote learning tools such as videoconferencing, school districts should be aware of potential security and privacy threats.
Watch Eileen Belastock, director of academic technology for Mount Greylock Regional School District in Massachusetts, discuss best practices for ensuring data privacy during e-learning.
Security risks during videoconferencing include outsiders gaining access to meeting rooms and disrupting them, Peterson says. Infiltrators can take over screen-sharing features and share inappropriate content with meeting participants. Cyberattackers can also target users with malicious links disguised as conference links to steal personal or confidential information, inject malicious code into installer programs and even control a user’s webcam and microphone.
In terms of privacy risks, users must be aware of what data vendors are collecting and maintaining and how they’re using it. Peterson also warns educators about recording their virtual classes without consent. Many videoconferencing platforms come with recording features that allow teachers to archive lessons and share them with students who may have missed their class or need to refer back to it.
“But you cannot share those videos with another class, a different age group or another school,” Peterson says. “You can’t be posting them online, and you can’t be sharing them through open-link technology if you’ve not gained permission from all parents in the class to have their students’ images distributed.”